The Life of Boats

by John C. Harris
January, 2015

CLC PocketShip Kit

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My grandmother was fond of saying, "You can't take a bad photo of the water!"  I appreciate the sentiment, but yes dear, you CAN take a bad photo of the water.  Here are some simple tips on how to make photos of your boat (and its crew) stand out from the crowd.  

Choose good light!

The photographers call the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset "The Golden Hour."  They aren't waxing poetic; it's because they tend to get paid for photos taken during those hours.  Photos taken when the sun is high in the sky can be "blown out" with too much light, or often require lots of retouching in PhotoShop.

This photo is just completely washed out by Chesapeake haze:

CLC Sassafras Canoe

An hour later, the setting sun bedaubed these canoes with delicate shape and color:

CLC Sassafras Canoes
The midday sun combined with haze contrived to flatten all the life out of this photo:

CLC PocketShip Rhode River

But later that very same day...

CLC PocketShip Minicruiser

Don't cut the boat off!

It's amazing how many photos we see with the nose and tail cropped off someone's pride and joy.  Keep the whole boat in the viewfinder!

Here we have the middle part of a Wherry...

CLC Annapolis Wherry Kit

A few frames later...I knew it had a bow and a stern.

CLC Annapolis Wherry

Except when it's artistically hip to cut off some of the boat.

This photo manages to convey motion, shape, color, and mood with less than half the boat in the picture.

CLC Sassafras 12 Canoe

Another exception that proves the rule:  Although we're missing the bow, the framing of this photo by Scott Bruce evokes action, and the Oxford Shell's classic lines speak for themselves.

CLC Oxford Shell
Pay attention to the "energy" of the people in the photo.

Photos of boats are good;  photos of boat with PEOPLE in them are better!

While much of this Sassafras 16 canoe is cropped off, the faces convey good vibes.

CLC Sassafras 16 Canoe

This photo says "I'm having fun!"

CLC Chesapeake 16 Kayak

This photo says "Get me out of this thing!"


Keep the camera level!

A pet peeve of mine is the sloping horizon.  Try to line up the horizon with the top of the view-finder in your camera.  Sure, we can rotate and crop the image in PhotoShop, but we may lose a lot of valuable pixels that way.

The off-kilter horizon is making me feel queasy...

CLC PocketShip Sailboat
The bolt-level horizon, neatly bisecting the frame, really makes this photo pop!

CLC PocketShip micro-cruiser

Low-res photos don't make it.

T'was a time when we begged people not to load up our email boxes with huge photos.  15 years ago that could break the internet.  Nowadays, 10 megabytes is no problem.  You can overdo it, of course;  3 megabytes is sufficient resolution even for print purposes, which requires 300dpi or more. Most professional photos we work with hover between 2 and 6 megabytes in size in JPEG format.  

Great photo at thumbnail size...

CLC Shearwater 17 with Joey Schott

Unusable at "print" resolution:

Photography has always been the art of capturing lightning in a bottle.  Nowadays, a two-year-old iPhone is capable of taking a magazine cover if you have some luck with the light and composition.  With the simple steps outlined here, any amateur can grab a magazine cover. Just ask me:  I'm a completely untrained photographer but I've had numerous covers!  Just a matter of being a little patient, choosing my light, and pressing the shutter at just the right moment.

CLC Faering Cruiser

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